Monday, September 24, 2012

Not My 10 Year Reunion

This weekend, The Man celebrated his 10-year high school reunion with over half of his classmates.  With a graduating class of around 30 students, that's a great turn-out.  We spent five hours socializing with old friends and their spouses and reminiscing on a tour of his high school.  I got to see several pictures of my husband as an eighteen year old, and I think everyone can agree he has changed dramatically since then--and all for the better.  While I knew a few of his close friends already, it was nice to meet some of the girls he used to have crushes on and some of the guys that he played soccer with.  It never ceased to amaze me how, even after a considerable length of time, people tended to fall right back into their old roles and remain "popular"--or not.

I also got to see family this weekend.  My sister and I went to visit Grandma and help her celebrate turning 94!  We were able to see our aunt as well, which was fantastic.  On Sunday, I had my parents, sister, and brother-in-law over for dinner and dessert.  I made a crock pot full of jambalaya, and everyone seemed to enjoy that quite a lot.  Three pounds of meat and then vegetables, rice, and spices made for a ton of food, but there wasn't a single grain of rice left.

My sister and I had a good time this weekend doing my makeup in a new way.  I've never felt like I look good with eyeliner on, but she did such a fantastic job that she has changed my mind.  I'm impressed.  I recently discovered the Revlon Lip Butters, a sort of sheer-ish lipstick that feels super smooth and not sticky or drying on my lips.  They've almost converted me from my green apple ChapStick, but not quite.

Between cleaning our house, taking care of a lawn, and putting together an awesome Lego set (more on that later), The Man and I had a great weekend together.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent + Cost Breakdown + Science!

All caught up reading about my other homemade cleaners?  Good.  Now let's dive into homemade powdered laundry detergent.

Why powdered?  I'm lazy when it comes to making these cleaners, so the idea of mixing a huge five-gallon bucket of liquid detergent and having to melt soap and let things sit overnight just seemed like too much work.  Powdered laundry detergent is more shelf-stable over a longer period of time, plus I don't have to worry as much about whether things are gelling, separating, or worse.  Since I am allergic to most detergents (Tide = evil!), I liked the ease of changing out ingredients more quickly with a powdered recipe.  Sure having five gallons of detergent is great, but now I can make smaller batches and adjust as I go until I find a perfect mix for my body and clothing.

This recipe is HE-machine friendly as it is low-sudsing.  While you can substitute Zote or Ivory soap for the Fels-Naptha, do not try to use other forms of body soap.

First, let's try some science:

Borax, available as Twenty Mule Team Borax at the store, is also known to the science world as sodium tetraborate decahydrate. It looks like a white powder, has no real scent, and is not flammable. In very large doses, it can be toxic to humans (so don't eat it, but it's fine to use for cleaning). Borax is a common detergent ingredient, and it is found in cosmetics, as a buffer solution, and as a fire retardant among other nifty things.

Washing Soda, also known as soda ash or sodium carbonate, is a basic (high pH) white powder. When not being all awesome as an ingredient in glass, it can be used as an electrolyte in chemistry labs, for lyeing (a browning agent in food, like on the outside of pretzels), removing flesh from bones in taxidermy, or to clean silver. For the household, washing soda functions primarily as a water softener. It is a degreaser and descaler, and it can help to remove oil and wine stains.

Fels-Naptha is a detergent and stain pretreater.  Just rub a little of the wet bar soap on a stain like you would the Spray'n'Wash stick or any other stain pretreaters.

OxiClean is known as sodium percarbonate in the laundry world.  It is a whitening agent that yields soda ash (washing soda!) and hydrogen peroxide (yeah, that stuff moms put on cuts that fizzles and burns) when mixed with water.

Second, a hard look at the math:

Borax costs $6.49 for 76 ounces or $0.09 per ounce.
Washing soda costs $8.20 for 55 ounces or $0.15 per ounce.
Fels-Naptha costs $1.49 for 5.5 ounces or $0.27 per ounce.
OxiClean costs $7.52 for 48 ounces or $0.16 per ounce.

Third, the recipe for Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent:

1 c Borax ($0.72)
1 c Washing soda ($1.20)
1 bar Fels-Naptha  ($1.49)--Ivory bars are $0.50
1/2 c OxiClean ($0.64)

$4.05 per batch of 60 loads or less than $0.07 per load.  Compare that to All Mighty Pacs at $19.03 for 48 loads or $0.40 per load.  Even if we make the switch to All liquid detergent in a jug, we're looking at $16.36 for 64 loads or $0.25 per load.  We're saving a minimum of 72% on the latter and 83% on the former!

But, not one to leave well-enough alone, I had a revelation: individual soap pods!  I really liked the All Mighty Pacs, but I didn't like shelling out the money for them.  There had to be a way to make my own detergent pods.  Since I didn't want to source my own water dissolving pod supplies (expensive, inefficient use of time), and I didn't want to do something disposable, I had to find a reusable porous material in which to place the soap for each load.  Enter favor bags!  These small bags are made of organza and are available at most craft stores (thank you 50%-off coupons!)--yeah, I could even make your own, but time is money as well.

I placed a tablespoon of my homemade laundry powder in the bag for the picture, but I'd probably almost double that for big loads of laundry.  After a few days of testing, I noticed the Fels-Naptha isn't always dissolving entirely, but that might be the water temperature or that I haven't grated and blended it small enough (though I thought the Magic Bullet did a pretty good job).  I might try using Ivory bar soap next time--or Zote if I can find it, or I might try not tightly pulling the drawstrings and leaving the top a bit looser when I add the pods to my laundry.  Everything else dissolves out of the bag just fine.  Also, as I was filling the bags, I noticed that some of the powder escapes through the fabric if I shake the bags.  If I fill them over a plate and then set them into a storage box without jostling it too much, these work great.  The little bags probably shouldn't go through the dryer, but mine survived just fine so far.  This bag part of the recipe is still a work in progress, but I've really liked this idea so far!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Homemade Cleaners + Cost Breakdown + Science!

It is with excitement that I finally have a chance to share with you this post!  I have been slaving hard testing recipes and analyzing costs and effectiveness before I release my results to the world.  Okay, so that's a tad over dramatic, but it's true.  I really worked hard to make this meaningful and accurate.

First, let's get into some science.  In order to make your own homemade cleaners effective, it's a really good idea to figure out what all the ingredients do (courtesy of Wikipedia!):

Borax, available as Twenty Mule Team Borax at the store, is also known to the science world as sodium tetraborate decahydrate.  It looks like a white powder, has no real scent, and is not flammable.  In very large doses, it can be toxic to humans (so don't eat it, but it's fine to use for cleaning).  Borax is a common detergent ingredient, and it is found in cosmetics, as a buffer solution, and as a fire retardant among other nifty things.

Washing Soda, also known as soda ash or sodium carbonate, is a basic (high pH) white powder.  When not being all awesome as an ingredient in glass, it can be used as an electrolyte in chemistry labs, for lyeing (a browning agent in food), removing flesh from bones in taxidermy, or to clean silver.  For the household, washing soda functions primarily as a water softener.  It is a degreaser and descaler, and it can help to remove oil and wine stains.

Baking Soda, that kitchen stalwart often confused with baking powder, goes by sodium bicarbonate in the lab.  When combined in doughs and batters, it works its magic as a leavening agent by releasing carbon dioxide causing expansion.  You know when you're making pancakes and the bubbles start forming before you flip the pancake?  That's baking soda doing it's thing.  Baking soda can also be used as a fairly effective toothpaste, deodorant, to control fungus, to extinguish a grease fire (on the stove, not a deep fryer), to absorb odors, and even as a heartburn remedy (in small amounts).  When cleaning, baking soda is frequently used as an abrasive material.

Dish soap is a detergent.  It works by making water stick to things like grease and dirt. That's why soaking a baked-on dish in soapy water makes it easier to clean. The water "sticks" to the stuck-on stuff better with dish soap added than without it.  To see an example of how dish soap works to reduce surface tension, watch this.  Another cool example of dish soap breaking the surface tension involves milk and food coloring.

Vinegar--the white variety--is a liquid consisting mainly of acetic acid and water.  Vinegars, the several dozen varieties available, are primarily used for cooking.  When not being used in the jungle to detect cervical cancer (really!), this wonder is a highly effective cleaning agent.  It can help dissolve to mineral deposits, to clean windows, and to polish metal.  According to Good Housekeeping's microbiologist, vinegar is about 90% effective against mold and 99.9% effective against bacteria.

Lemon juice is the liquid squeezed from a lemon.  It is an acid and is edible, although it is quite sour.  It can be used as a degreaser or added to help polish metal (though it must be diluted lest it corrode the metal).

Essential oils are called "essential" because they contain the "essence" of the plant from which they are extracted.  They are extracted using distillation (heat, evaporation, and condensation), expression (squeezing), or by solvent extraction (chemicals).  While many claims are made to the efficacy of various essential oils curing cancer, treating illnesses, or igniting world peace, the only 100% proven thing these oils do is smell.  And some of them don't smell that great.  When purchasing essential oils, strive to get the purest oils possible.  They should not be eaten (but aren't exactly toxic either), and should never be applied directly to the skin.

Olive oil is the fat obtained from olives using mechanical or chemical processes.  This oil is widely used in cooking, cosmetics, soaps, and as fuel for lamps.  In addition to being excellent on or in food, olive oil can be used for everything from shaving (instead of foam), as a moisturizer, or as an ear wax softener.  In the household, olive oil can be used to polish furniture or floors.

Second, let's look at the math.  For the ease of comparison, I selected name brand and widely available products and used Amazon's prices.  Many of these items can regularly be found on sale or you may even already have them at home (yay you!).  I did not figure a cost for water as the cost of water in these recipes is insignificant.  I used this formula to calculate percentage savings.

Borax at $6.49 for one 72 ounce box or $0.09 per ounce.
Washing Soda at $8.20 for one 55 ounce box or $0.15 per ounce.
Baking Soda at $0.97 for one 16 ounce box or about $0.06 per ounce.
Dish soap at $3.75 for one 25 ounce bottle or $0.13 per ounce.
Vinegar at $6.25 for one 128 ounce bottle or $0.04 per ounce.
Lemon juice at $9.99 for one 32 ounce bottle or $0.32 per ounce
Essential oil - costs vary widely depending on the oil, but $5 for 10ml or 0.33 ounces should be a good average.  One drop of oil is approximately 0.05ml or 0.0017oz, so there are approximately 200 drops in one 10ml bottle of essential oil.
Olive oil - $15.84 for one 68 ounce bottle or $0.23 per ounce
Water - free

And third, the recipes!

All-Purpose Cleaner
1 t. Borax ($0.05)
1 t. Washing Soda ($0.08)
1/2 c Vinegar ($0.16)
2 c hot (tap, not boiling) water (free)
25 drops essential oil (about $1.00)
Mix Borax, Washing Soda, and Vinegar in a squirt bottle.  Add hot water.  Cool.  Add essential oil.  Mix well by shaking.  You can also add a 1/2 t. of dish soap if you want a sudsy mix.
$1.29 per bottle or about $0.065 per ounce. Compare to Clorox cleaner at $7.79 per bottle or $0.24 per ounce.  Save 73%.

Shower Cleaner
1c Dawn ($1.04)
1 c Vinegar - hot (tap, not boiling) ($0.32)
Mix in a spray bottle, shake gently before using.  This stuff really works!
At 8 ounces each to make a 16 ounce bottle, that's $1.36 per bottle or $0.085 per ounce.  Compare to Scrubbing Bubbles at $11.56 for two bottles ($5.78 for one) or $0.18 per ounce. Save 53%.

Floor Cleaner
1/4 c Dawn ($0.26)
3 c Vinegar ($0.96)
1 c Lemon juice ($2.56)
4 c hot (tap, not boiling) water (free)
Mix in a half-gallon-ish container.  (Note: I've considered mixing this without water and then adding half as much solution to my water when I use it.  This will make the concentrate more expensive, but it will still be cheaper than Pine-Sol.)
$3.78 for 66 ounces or under $0.06 per ounce. Compare to Pine-Sol at $4.73 for 24 ounces or $0.20 per ounce.  Save 70%.

Grout Cleaner
1/2 c Baking soda ($0.24)
1/4 c Dawn ($0.26)
Mix well into a paste.  Apply using a toothbrush and scrub into grout adding water as needed.  Rinse well.  (Note: My mother loves her brand-name cleaners and swears by 409, Pine-Sol, and other staple cleaners used this when she helped me clean my new house.  She was amazed at how well this mix works on icky grout.  It was cheap and worked very, very well.  Just be sure to rinse well.)
$0.50 for 6 ounces or $0.08 per ounce of very concentrated cleaner.  Compare to Soft Scrub with Baking Soda at $0.16 per ounce.  Save 50% or more.

And for when you're all done cleaning the house, how about a treat for yourself! Lemon Sugar Scrub
1/2 c Sugar
1 T Olive oil
2 T Lemon juice
Mix and scrub away gently.  Rinse well.

I am working on a post entirely dedicated to my laundry detergent next.  I will link to it here when I get it posted.  Seriously, you do not want to miss what's coming up next!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Loves, Likes, Dislikes, and Disloves of our New House

About a month ago, The Man and I bought a house.  It is our first house, and we're both thrilled to be living anywhere other than an apartment.  However, we have learned many new and interesting things since we bought this house, and I thought I'd share some of our lessons with you today.

Three Things we Love about our New House:
1. It is ours for better or worse (hopefully better, because worse tends to cost money).
2. The master bathroom with two-seater shower, soaker tub, and dual vanity: LOVE!
3. Having a garage and parking our cars very close to where we live (as opposed to in a parking lot several spaces away from where we would have liked to park, plus only having one dedicated space and having one person always hunting for parking).

Three Things we Like about our New House:

1. The location is great for us, but it is a tiny bit inconvenient to run out to fast food or the grocery store.  It isn't a big deal to stop on the way home or run errands on the weekends at all, but that inconvenience means we have to plan ahead more often.
2. Our kitchen!  It isn't perfect with the tile counters and honey-oak-toned cabinets, but the size is good, and the appliances are pretty good.  I am relearning how to cook on a gas range, one little thing I so dearly missed in our apartment.  Having a pantry is nice, but we're still learning how to arrange things in there.
3. Having a patio and a large front porch is a huge blessing.  Those two things helped sell us on the house, especially the porch.  The Man loves reading outside on his lounge chair, and our neighborhood is so pleasantly quiet (if you ignore the mooing cows and crazy-loud roosters a few blocks away).  The porch and patio are both in shade usually, and we are slowly killing and removing all of the wasp nests around the house, so sitting outside to eat or read will be quite nice this fall.

Three Things we Dislike about our New House:

1. The living room layout is unfortunately quite difficult to plan around.  There isn't a good spot for a couch and loveseat to both be able to view the TV well (and let's just face facts, we don't do "sitting rooms," we do video games and movies and serious screen time).
2. Stairs.  We knew we'd dislike the stairs right away, but they haven't been too bad.  My leg muscles are getting stronger, and my knees only ache if I have to run up and down them frequently.  We have learned to plan our trips up and down the stairs a bit more, and we've discovered the benefit of an "up" basket at the foot of the stairs (if you're going up, look in the basket and take the contents up with you, thanks!).
3. Having so much more to clean has been a learning curve.  It's a first-world problem to have such a large house to clean, so I feel terrible complaining about it, but we more than doubled our square footage and tripled our number of bathrooms.  It's a lot to clean.  It's more work than we're used to.  We're figuring it out, though, and hopefully we'll crest the curve soon.

Three Things we Dislove (hate is such a strong word) about our New House:

1. The paint job the previous owners slapped on the wall.  While their color selection leaves something to be desired, their ability to get paint smeared on every light figures, door knob, and wall plate is impressive.  I've discovered all kinds of paint presents as I clean and prep rooms for repainting.
2. The evil, evil plants in the yard.  Someone decided to plant some Barberry in the yard, and I attempted to reduce the shrub's size, but it attacked me.  The spikes on that plant pierced thick, heavy leather with ease.  I am so not impressed.  If my hack job on those plants don't kill them by spring, they're coming out.  I will not fear plants in my front yard.  Bugs yes, plants no.
3. Speaking of bugs, neither of us appreciate the wasps or their paper nests in our eaves.  We have five paper nests baseball size or larger, and the biggest one is nearly a soccer ball size.  We can't see much activity in the nests, but they just don't need to be there.  We have tons of spray and use it often.  The pressure washer is coming soon, so those bugs better find a new home ASAP.

What things do you love, like, dislike, or dislove/hate about your house?

Monday, September 10, 2012

On The Hunt

When we were looking to buy a house, we read often not to buy anything until we actually lived in our new space a few weeks.  Sad to say we spent some money on a few things right away that might have been unnecessary or found cheaper elsewhere, but live and learn, right?

On the other hand, we put off buying a nice dining set until we knew what size our dining room would be.  My old $10 printer stand bit the dust in the move (no great loss on some particle board that had functioned as a printer stand for nearly ten years).  And I really wanted a few things for the kitchen like a magnet strip for my knives and a dozen new drinking glasses (we're down three more glasses in the last month alone--blame the ice maker/shooter-outer).

We went to Portland on Saturday to Ikea where we hoped to solve a few of our immediate needs less expensively than we could have around where we live.  The Man still isn't convinced that Ikea has goods that aren't flimsy or shoddy, but we both really liked the look and functionality of the Vika Alex as a printer stand with storage.  He also scored two very cool floating glass shelves for displaying his prized action figures, and I walked out with some very nice magazine boxes for my quilting magazines.  We left the store having spent under $140.  Comparable printer stands with that much storage sell for upwards of $350 at Staples and OfficeMax.  As for the quality of the storage unit, well, if there's ever an earthquake, that thing is going to survive without question!  It is easily one of the most stable pieces of furniture I've ever purchased.

We also made a super fast trip over to a furniture store to hone in on our desired dining furniture, but we didn't make any purchases there.  I've ordered new glasses and my magnetic knife strip thingy, so hopefully we'll be set on those things very soon.  I won't even get started on the hunt we endured for a reel mower, comfortable-but-not-ugly shoes, and garden gloves.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Brain Melt

Blame the paint fumes for my total lack of blogging lately.  I have almost finished the upstairs guest bathroom.  I hit a very big snag this weekend, but I've recovered and patched everything up (literally, and don't ask).  Hopefully I'll be able to transition into painting the master bathroom by next weekend.  That one will take quite some time as there are twice as many little walls and places to cut in around and such.  I'll be thrilled when we're done painting white over blue!  The Man started helping me with the cutting in around the ceilings as all of the blood draining out of my arms was making me... unhappy.  Or so he says.  Pfft.

We had a very busy weekend visiting lots of family and showing off our house.  Saturday night and Sunday were full of catching up, swapping stories, and generally laughing a lot.  We had great food as well.  Monday was a special holiday day off for both The Man and me, so we decided to spend it together without visitors. We caught up on a lot of shopping and planning for our house and other general chores.

Our to-do list for the house keeps growing.  I wish it was all a "honey do" list, but it has just as many "ugh, do I have to?" items on it.

In non-housing news, I'm super inspired to start making bento lunches again.  I really liked the idea of making my own household cleaners and recently launched myself into making my own powdered HE laundry detergent that smells amazing and is super inexpensive.  So far it has worked perfectly.  I also can't wait for fall and getting tons of apples to dry for lunches this winter.  My poor food dehydrator better get ready because it is going to be working overtime.

There are so many things I want to blog about right now, but I just haven't had a free moment to sit down and pour them out with the quality my readers--you--deserve.  Bear with me, I'll run of out steam soon on the house.  My brain won't let me keep all of this juicy blog material for long.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

I Hate Painting

That's it.  That's all I have to say today.  I am so incredibly tired of painting every free moment.  Ugh.